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March: Shearwaters to Tiritiri Matangi

Fluttering Shearwater

My biggest birding month with 257 species from New Zealand, California and England. Usually, New Zealand would not contribute much to this tally but the first day of the month saw me drive along the Whangaparaoa peninsula for a date with the country’s rarest birds. A boat would have to complete the journey because, right now, the only refuges for mammal-sensitive species are small islands, in this case the jewel of them all – Tiritiri Matangi, or Tiri to avoid a Maori mouthful.

The sanctuary is only a five mile crossing into the Hauraki Gulf and so hardly any distance from Auckland. Few capitals can boast a thousand-year time-trip on their doorstep. For that’s what the island is: a reconstruction of New Zealand fauna, complete with birds, before Europeans razed the country and filled it with aliens. Moreover, it is again mammal-free although house sparrows, mynahs and starlings still represent the invaders. Not much can be done about them.

The boat trip began at Gulf Harbour, where a couple of New Zealand plovers started the day well. It got better past the end of the peninsula, where an improbability (I kid you not) of fluttering shearwaters gave me what I believed at the time to be lifer number 1050. These seabirds are the equivalent of our Manx shearwaters, although closer in markings to the Balearics. In California, black-vented shearwaters fill the same niche.

Less fluttery – because larger – darker flesh-footed shearwaters mixed with the flocks, as did the odd Buller’s with its distinctive W-shaped markings. All these Puffinus birds were still close to their breeding islands in the Gulf before their dispersal to the wider oceans. From its sole nursery of the most northerly island, Poor Knights, the Buller’s flies as far as California, where I first saw them on Debbie Shearwater’s (apt name) pelagics back in 2001.

Three shearwaters is always a good start to the month and I hadn’t even set foot on the treasured island yet. ⇐

4 comments to March: Shearwaters to Tiritiri Matangi

  • Larry Jordan

    Wow Andy, I had no idea that an island existed like this where such a huge and successful conservation project had been engineered. This looks like a dream come true.

  • Andy

    It is awesome and worth the investment of a huge detour. The Kiwis lead the way at this sort of stuff.

  • Gunnar Engblom

    Hi Andy

    Congrats on the lifer! Never heard of Fluttering Shearwaters ever coming to Peru, but who knows. A lot of other NZ birds show up here. You did not do a trip for NZ Storm Petrel when in the neighbourhood or weren’t they around this time of year?

  • Andy

    Gunnar, according to my Harrison, the shearwaters flutter about as far east as Chatham Island, so Peru is a long way off the radar! I can’t find NZ Petrel anywhere. What’s its scientific name?

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